The word virtual conjures up several enticing, but often
untrue, images. What is a virtual team and why is the call for
virtual teams greater than ever before?
A virtual team, like every other team, is a group of people who
interact through interdependent tasks guided by a common purpose.
Unlike conventional teams, however, a virtual team works across
space, time, and organizational boundaries. Plus, in a
multicultural environment, virtuality becomes dependent upon
whether the leaders can deal with unique differences among team
members. The following characteristics of our society help explain
why the need for these teams is increasing:
Technology The info-media industries (computers,
communications, and consumer electronics) are one of the largest
sectors of the global economy. The new technologies increase
efficiency, productivity, and consumer power.
Globalization People all over the world are
interconnected in the flow of information, money, and goods.
Competition Globalization and technology have led
businesses to compete fiercely for a worldwide market share.
Change Change occurs faster than ever.
Organizations must be sufficiently agile to meet these constantly
Speed Increased technological speed is matched by
fast-paced product lifecycles.
Three critical factors are needed to succeed as a virtual team:
Goals . The team's goals and
project plan must incorporate the organization's strategy, the
objectives of the various team disciplines, and the team members'
Communication . The team must
master and effectively employ all the available communication
Internal team dynamics . The team
must have the right mindset to work in a virtual team environment.
The leader's role
The multicultural leader, who must ensure those three success
factors are being met, has four roles: direction-setter, change
agent, communicator, and mentor. Most important, the leader must be
a committed person who makes a compelling case for the benefits of
living with the accompanying uncertainty and risks that comes with
These leaders must communicate obsessively and share intelligence,
information, and meaning directly with employees. Virtual team
leaders need to communicate formally and informally to forge
relationships and knowledge networks. And perhaps most important,
these leaders need to study the web of relationships that exist,
after all, these relationships can have a dramatic effect on
Based on the important characteristics of the new century, we all
must learn some practical considerations for training in different
cultures. People need to be respected and understood in a different
way in the cross-cultural arena. Leaders must understand how
multicultural teamwork impacts behavior and communication, and team
members need to become more resilient, focused, organized,
proactive, and confident in their ability to deal with change. This
can be encouraged through training, building an understanding of
the external world and global socio-economic changes, and by
creating a culture of continuous improvement.